Originally created 04/12/06

Verdict seen as godsend by wife

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. - For five weeks, Irma McDarby showed up daily in Courtroom 3A - sitting in the front row, listening to the lawyers and the doctors and the expert witnesses talk about her husband's angiogram, his broken hips, his diabetes.

On the days her husband felt up to it, she pushed his wheelchair, helped him in and out of the hard wooden courtroom seats and took him to the bathroom.

She was used to it.

Ever since 77-year-old John McDarby suffered a heart attack and collapsed in the living room of their Park Ridge home two years ago, she has been his constant caregiver, spelled only by once-a-week visits from an aide because the couple can't afford more frequent care.

On Tuesday, a jury said the couple should receive $9 million in punitive damages after finding that Merck & Co.'s arthritis drug Vioxx contributed to his heart attack. Combined with other damages awarded last week, Merck has been ordered to pay $13.5 million to the couple.

Appeals by the company will likely delay the payment, said Robert Gordon, one of the McDarbys' lawyers.

Mr. McDarby, a retired insurance agent, suffered the heart attack in April 2004 after taking Vioxx for four years because of arthritis pain in his hands and a knee. As he collapsed, his body twisted, his right hip fracturing before he hit the floor.

The incident led to a sharp decline for the man Irma McDarby married twice - they were divorced in 1982 and remarried in 1989. He spent about three months in the hospital and in rehabilitation, and later fell and broke his left hip.

Now, he requires constant care. To his wife, who struggles to lift him and bathe him and dress him, that's the godsend of the verdict.

"I feel justified," she said. "Now, my husband John, the father of my five children, will get the care that he so desperately needs."

But Irma McDarby, a petite, soft-spoken 70-year-old who works as a church secretary, also said there was more at stake than just the money that she may wait a long time to see.

"It's the integrity that's involved, the morality that's involved," she said.


December 1998: Food and Drug Administration approves Pfizer Inc.'s Celebrex, the first Cox-2 inhibitor, to treat arthritis. Cox-2 drugs, part of the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drug class, inhibit the Cox-2 enzyme, which promotes inflammation, but protect users against stomach bleeds and ulcers.

May 1999: FDA approves Merck & Co.'s Vioxx, another Cox-2 inhibitor, for treatment of arthritis and acute pain.

June 2000: Merck gives FDA results of VIGOR study, which shows Vioxx users suffered five times as many heart attacks as users of the older painkiller naproxen, sold under the brand name Aleve. Merck attributes the disparity to naproxen's cardioprotective qualities rather than a defect in Vioxx, garnering a rebuke from the FDA for making that assertion without proof.

September 2001: Merck receives a warning letter from the FDA about the company's post-VIGOR Vioxx promotional campaign.

April 2002: FDA changes warning label on Vioxx to reflect VIGOR study results.

September 2004: Merck stops long-term approve study, saying it showed Vioxx could double risk of heart attack or stroke if taken for 18 months or longer. Merck voluntarily withdraws Vioxx from the market.

April 5, 2006: A jury in Atlantic City, N.J., finds Merck liable for John McDarby's heart attack and orders $4.5 million in damages.

Tuesday: The Atlantic City jury awards Mr. McDarby $9 million in punitive damages.

- Associated Press


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